Slavery in New Hampshire

When I think of New Hampshire, I don’t think about slavery.  Frankly, it’s inconceivable to me that someone would enslave another human being, but it was commonplace in all of the thirteen colonies in the 1600’s until 1865, when it was finally abolished after the Civil War.

But it surely existed here.  In 1767 there were 187 slaves in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  Portsmouth was a hub for the transport of slaves into North America and human beings were bought and sold right on the same streets we walk today.  There are as many as 200 deceased slaves under the streets of Portsmouth around Congress Street who probably died soon after arriving in the city.  Slaves that died on the transport ships were thrown overboard like garbage.

New Hampshire wasn’t an optimal location for slaves, not because of a moral imperative, but because the land didn’t support farming using slave labor.  It simply wasn’t as profitable here, but it was still cheap enough to justify the act.  Over time, as the Industrial Revolution transformed the region to a manufacturing hub, cheap human labor used in the factories because the norm.  Slavery was pushed to the south, where plantations made slavery economically viable.

Looking around New Hampshire, it’s not a particularly diverse population.  Perhaps that lack of slave labor meant that when it was finally abolished there simply weren’t many black people living here.  Perhaps its because when these slaves became freed they congregated in communities elsewhere.  Whatever the reason, New Hampshire remains one of the whitest states in the union.

I’m not at all comfortable writing about slavery.  I’m not a perfect man, but I’m a free man and I can empathize with those who endured the horrors of slavery.  For all the talk of freedom in the years leading up to and after the Revolutionary War, the colonists of the time largely overlooked the plight of those who served them.  Still, there was a growing revulsion towards slavery, and over the one hundred years from when those 187 slaves were in Portsmouth the Americans reached a tipping point where it was outlawed.  Slavery remains a stain on our history, and it’s important to remember that the stain wasn’t just in the south.